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Days before the likely completion of the Alltel-Western Wireless merger, Western Wireless said yesterday that it sold its Meteor Mobile subsidiary to Eircom Group for $500 million.

Meteor is Ireland’s smallest cellphone operator; Eircom is Ireland’s biggest phone company.

The deal is expected to close in October.

On Friday, Western Wireless shareholders will vote on whether to sell the company to Alltel for more than $4 billion in cash and stock.


No more coverage for Florida homes

Safeco said it will stop selling homeowners insurance in Florida after a record four hurricanes hit the state in 2004.

The company plans to stop selling new policies today and will only renew coverage through the end of the year, Seattle-based Safeco said yesterday. The decision affects about 30,000 homeowners, renters and condominium customers.

Safeco, which insures less than 1 percent of Florida’s residential market, will continue to sell auto coverage in the state.

Separately yesterday, Safeco said it repurchased about 2.15 percent of the company’s shares for $150 million. It bought 2.75 million shares at $54.50 apiece, Safeco said.


MSN scales back A/Razorfish ties

Seattle-based aQuantive said yesterday that MSN no longer will use the advertising-related services of aQuantive’s Avenue A/Razorfish division.

Microsoft is consolidating the number of media agencies it uses, aQuantive said, adding that the decision to drop Avenue A/Razorfish was not a reflection of the work delivered by the division.

During the first half of the year, the MSN media business represented less than 1 percent of aQuantive’s revenue, aQuantive said. Avenue A/Razorfish will continue to work for Microsoft in other areas.

Nextel Partners

Donahue resigns his directorship

Nextel Partners, which sells wireless products and services, said Tim Donahue, chief executive officer of Nextel Communications, resigned from its board ahead of likely merger talks between the companies.

The July 21 departure followed a recommendation by the Nextel Partners board that shareholders force Nextel to buy the stake in Kirkland-based Nextel Partners it doesn’t already own, Donahue said in a letter included yesterday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Nextel Partners has the right to force the deal after Sprint’s planned $35 billion Nextel purchase.

The board change removes a potential conflict for Donahue, who would help negotiate terms of the Nextel Partners purchase.

The board elected Christopher Rogers, a senior vice president at Nextel Communications, to replace Donahue.

Realtors report

Existing-home sales set record in June

Existing homes were sold at the fastest pace in history last month, and the median price set a record as well. But some private economists predicted housing may be nearing its peak as mortgage rates begin to rise.

In June, existing homes sold at an annual rate of 7.33 million units, an all-time high and an increase of 2.7 percent from the seasonally adjusted sales pace in May, according to a report yesterday from the National Association of Realtors.

The gain reflected a 2.4 percent rise in sales of single-family homes, which climbed to a record of 6.37 million units at an annual rate.

The strength in sales helped push the median price of an existing home to a record of $219,000, a gain of 14.7 percent from the median, or midpoint, for homes sold a year ago. That was the biggest jump in prices in nearly 25 years, since a 15.6 percent year-over-year increase in November 1980.

Teva Pharmaceutical

Drug company buys rival for $7.4 billion

In a deal that will create the world’s largest generic drug company, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries said yesterday it is acquiring rival Ivax for about $7.4 billion in cash and stock. Ivax shares climbed 10 percent.

The acquisition comes as the generic drug industry has been benefiting from a drive to lower health-care costs and a spate of patent expirations on major medicines. But competition among generic makers is intensifying and the deal may trigger further consolidation.

Analysts largely applauded the move, saying the deal made strategic sense as it expanded Teva’s operations into Latin America and Eastern Europe while giving it a portfolio of respiratory products.

Apple Computer

New Mac mini, iBook may be added

Apple Computer may add new versions of its Mac mini and iBook computers in the next two weeks, in time for the back-to-school shopping season, said Shaw Wu, American Technology Research analyst. The new model of the Mac mini, a book-sized PC that Chief Executive Steve Jobs introduced in January, will have more memory and wireless Internet hookups, and the new iBook laptop will have a bigger screen, Wu wrote in a note to clients yesterday.

American Express

Company earnings beat expectations

Profit at American Express, which specializes in travel services and credit cards, soared 16 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier on strong growth in card-member spending and improved credit quality, the company said yesterday.

Net income for the April-June period totaled a record $1.01 billion, or 81 cents a share, compared with profits of $876 million, or 68 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue in the quarter was $8 billion, up from $7.23 billion a year earlier.

The profit was well above the 78 cents per share expected by analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial. Revenue also beat their projection of $7.78 billion.

Shares of American Express, one of the 30 Dow industrials, fell 1 cent to close at $54.56 yesterday.

Tyco International

Sentencing delayed for 2 former execs

The sentencing of L. Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz, the former Tyco International executives found guilty last month of fraud and larceny, has been postponed until Sept. 19, Kozlowski’s lawyer said yesterday.

“There will not be a sentence” on Aug. 2, said Austin Campriello, an attorney for Kozlowski. The men face as long as 30 years in state prison.

Compiled from Seattle Times staff, The Associated Press and Bloomberg News